They say she mixed with gypsies as a child. Mary Bateman (1768 – 1809) was born to a prosperous farmer and went into service at around age twelve. She was dismissed from her post for theft and soon employed her skill at concocting potions (and stealing on the side) to make a living. She made public displays of her skill, the most famous of which was her magical laying hen who produce eggs that said “Crist is coming.” It cost a penny to view them, these eggs that the hen would lay before one’s very eyes, appropriately labeled beforehand and inserted into the “unfortunate” hen.
She didn’t like children:
“One day, the whole family had been out for some time, when one of the children, a boy of about 7 years of age returned and found on the table a small cake; the mother and the others of the children soon after returned and partook of this cake, which they soon discovered had a very keen and pungent taste, this however did not prevent them from eating several mouthfuls of it; they soon after became sick to such a degree, as to render medical aid necessary.”
— Extraordinary Life and Character of Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch (1809)
The trial of the Yorkshire witch was filled with a great cloud of witnesses, not unlike those old medieval proceedings immortalized in the minds of folks from the 70s thanks to Monty Python:
— John Rodgerson and Roger Stockdale – declared she had mysterious bags about her person.
— Thomas Gristy – was sent by the witch to procure poison, but then he was a wee lad at the time.
— Mr. Clough, Leeds surgeon — refused to allow two boys sent by the witch to procure arsenic, although the identity of said boys is not known as it has been several years hence
During preparation for trial, the witch was examined by a Mr. Hemingway, Solicitor, “a gentleman whose patient and laborious investigations contributed materially to the development of this dark and mysterious affair.” He recorded she denied poisoning anyone.
Curiously, it was her long record of fraud that the court dwelled upon:
“You entered into a long and premeditated system of fraud, of which you carried upon for a length of time, which is most astonishing..”
She pled a stay of execution by reason she was pregnant. The court appointed a group of matrons to examine her and when they returned a verdict of “not pregnant,” Mary Bateman was executed forthwith.
Her skeleton is on display today at Thakray Museum in Leeds.